- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

Several no-bid consulting arrangements involving the Office of the City Administrator broke city contracting law and were not free from “the appearance of preferential treatment,” according to a sharply critical government audit released yesterday.

D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols singled out the office of City Administrator Robert C. Bobb for what she called “irregular procurement and financial transactions” related to the District’s attempts to build a baseball stadium and to organize a trade mission to China for city officials last year.

“The City Administrator’s action of identifying friends and associates, principally from Oakland, California, for non-competitive, sole source ‘deals’ … resulted in transactions that were not: above reproach, ‘arms length,’ completely impartial, and free from the appearance of preferential treatment,” according to the audit.

Mr. Bobb could not be reached for comment yesterday.

However, in a written reply to the report, Mr. Bobb and D.C. Secretary Sherryl Hobbs Newman said they disagreed strongly with the audit.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, requested the audit earlier this year. He was not available for comment.

The letter from Mr. Bobb and Mrs. Newman, addressed to Mrs. Nichols, said the audit “uncovered a handful of instances of technical noncompliance with the procurement rules” that “do not warrant the sweeping indictment you have presented.”

“In each case,” the letter states, “the contractor provided good value to the government at competitive rates.”

Among the transactions questioned by Mrs. Nichols’ office were consulting deals involving people who Mr. Bobb knew from his previous job as city administrator in Oakland, Calif., which he left in 2003.

In one arrangement, the District hired Oakland City Council member Jane Brunner, a labor lawyer, to help negotiate apprenticeships for D.C. residents during the construction of a new baseball stadium in Southeast.

Auditors said the $185-per-hour arrangement with Miss Brunner violated city contracting laws because it was not authorized by the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement.

Auditors also found that city officials failed to seek price quotes from other vendors and that Miss Brunner’s work extended beyond the scope of the original agreement.

Among the documents included as attachments in the report was an e-mail from Mr. Bobb to Miss Brunner, dated Feb. 25, 2004, in which he wrote: “My team are aware of my desire to use your services.”

In his written reply to Mrs. Nichols, Mr. Bobb said his staff “made technical errors” in the contract with Miss Brunner. But he disputed the audit finding that his staff “responded to apparent pressure from upper management” in brokering the arrangement.

“No evidence of such ‘evidence’ is presented in your factual findings,” Mr. Bobb said in the letter.

In a separate arrangement, auditors questioned $75,000 paid to consultant Ira Sockowitz, a former Clinton administration appointee. He was hired for legislative strategy during negotiations last year to bring baseball to the District.

The audit said officials in the mayor’s office determined ahead of time that they would hire Mr. Sockowitz, despite a requirement to seek offers from other businesses.

Mr. Sockowitz also was paid $26,500 under a separate agreement last year for consulting work related to a trade mission to China led by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and several council members. The trip was organized by the Office of the Secretary.

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